GUITAR magazine (Japan)
Original English interview (July 24, 2010)
'The Adventures of Bumblefoot' is my first album, an instrumental guitar album originally released May 1995 on Shrapnel Records in the US, Roadrunner Records in Europe & Japan. It was pretty well received at the time, good reviews, charted on reader's polls in magazines. The album's since been out of print for the last dozen years, and it seemed like the only way to get it was on eBay, where I've seen them sell for as much as $600. Now 15 years later, Shrapnel is re-releasing the album. We added bonus tracks from a video game soundtrack I did for Sega in 1995, making it a total of 19 tracks. The CD will be available through my webstore ( www.bumblefoot.com/store ) where it'll be autographed and $5 will go to Multiple Sclerosis research. After the initial release of the album, I spent six months writing out and transcribing every detail of what I played the TAB, notation, fingers, picking, strumming, weird noises, absolutely everything. It's a 200-page book, and will also be available in August at the webstore.
Q01: "THE ADVENTURES OF BUMBLEFOOT" was originally released in 1995. Apparently it was recorded in 1994, however I assume that some songs may have been done before that. Could you tell me the timeline of each song (which song came when)?
A few of the songs were already around. Malignant Carbuncle was recorded in Dec. '91 as part of an instructional tape for Shrapnel Records that didn't get released. Blue Tongue was written in 1989, I had a few demo versions of it - the version on the Adventures album was first released May '92 on a guitar comp CD for Legato Records (the song was alternately called 'The Shuck Duffle'). The title track 'Bumblefoot' was released May '93 by the same label for another guitar comp CD. I started writing and recording the rest of the album in August '94. The first song I recorded was Strawberry Footrot - I had sinusitis and laid down a track of moans of discomfort - I built the solo around it later. The last songs I wrote were Ick, Rinderpest, and Q Fever. The album was done by October.
Q02: In what kind of studio did you record those songs? How was the environment of the recording studio?
I was still living with my parents, and had a small home studio set up in the basement. I had a Fostex 1/4 8-track reel-to-reel recorder and an 8-channel board. After signing to Shrapnel I got two Alesis ADATs, a Mackie 24-channel board, two Alesis 3630 compressors, along with my old Boss SE-50 multi-FX and an Alesis Midiverb. Everything was set up in a little area along the wall - a seat, a rack of ADATs and FX with a mixing board on top, a pair of headphones, and a guitar amp. Five feet away was the big noisy air-conditioning unit for the house, and it was a hot Summer. So I'd start recording, the AC would kick on, and I'd have to stop and wait for it to shut off. After it shut off 15 minutes later, I'd start recording again, and go through the same thing, stopping every time the AC went on. Once in a while I'd sneak upstairs and turn the thermostat up to 90 degrees (F) and get a good batch of recording in, until I'd hear my mom's voice from upstairs, Why is it so hot in the house?, followed soon after by Who turned the thermostat up to 90?!?! ....RONALD!!!!! I'd stop recording, get yelled at, then I'd continue recording. (And I'd sneak upstairs and turn the thermostat up again...)
I didn't have a separate recording room and control room, so the only thing between me and the amp was a blanket over the mic and cabinet, and a 10-year-old pair of Sony headphones on my ears (which I still have and use.) I didn't have studio monitors so all the recording and mixing happened in those headphones. I had 16 tracks maximum, no editing, no remote control (just the basic Stop/Play/Rewind), none of our modern-day conveniences. But it wasn't a problem. You take what you have, and get creative, go as far as you can with it.
Q03. In 1990, technical guitar playing was considered to be kind of "out." Being surrounded in that scene, how did you want to make this debut album be?
I was never concerned about being 'in' or 'out', because those things are temporary, they change quickly. Music is timeless, and every kind of music will have its time, and its own audience of people who like that style. When I write my own music, I don't think about business, writing what's 'in' thoughts like that corrupt the creative process. I write what I feel, what I think, what I am. This album wasn't made to be on commercial radio, it was made to be honest self-expression, and something for guitar enthusiasts to enjoy.
Q04 Are there any styles which you did not want to do?
I didn't put any boundaries on anything. I didn't think of it as intentionally adding styles, I was just showing different sides of who I was. It's like an album is a big complex picture, and each song is a close view of one part of that picture. As long as the album captured what I wanted it to in its entirety, I didn't think each song had to say it all, each could have a bit of their own identity.
Q05. Mike Varney is credited as an executive producer. On this recording, how did he involve in the project? Did he give any advice regarding the album's contents or direction?
Mike just had me do what I do, and fortunately we didn't have any creative conflicts with this album. I would write and record and mix, send him songs, and he was ok with everything, even the art I made. There was a second half of the song 'Malignant Carbuncle' that Mike left off the album, and he shortened the name 'Bastard Strangles' to 'Strangles'. Everything for this album was smooth and productive.
Q06. From this album, I felt the similar attitude with Frank Zappa, although the musical style and technical level of guitar playing are different. Were you conscious about playing the avant-garde music?
I just wrote things that I enjoyed, things that entertained me intellectually and emotionally the music should give the listener an idea about the personality of the person making the music, make the listener feel like they know the person. I showed what I feel - there's the positive and fun side that you hear in the verses of Orf, Scrapie, Q Fever, the extreme and intense thinking side that you hear in Strangles, the emotional side you hear in Rinderpest, Fistulous Withers, these are all parts of any personality, and I showed who I was.
Q07: Every song is unique and very innovative. How did you get ideas for those songs during that period?
Thank you! There was no specific thought pattern, other than to *not think*. That's how to be creative to *not* try to be. If you remove all boundaries and let everything happen freely, your music will be unique. Every person has their own individuality, so be yourself, and make music that represents you.
Q08: Song titles are derived from names of animal diseases. Why is that? Was it because you created music from the animal's point of view?
Haha, the whole concept started with the song Bumblefoot. It was the early 90's, my girlfriend was in veterinary school. I was helping her study and came across a disease that turkeys get called Ulcerative Pododermatitis, also known as Bumblefoot. One of the treatments for this disease was to rub hemorrhoid creme on the bird's foot and wrap it in a ball bandage. I was so oddly amused by this that I wrote a song called Bumblefoot. And when it came time to do the album, that song was gave the album its direction. I named every song after a different animal disease, and the album art has characters that represent each of the songs. I spent two weeks staring at my foot, sitting in front of my old Windows 3.11 PC plotting lines on Corel Draw4 making the artwork.
Q09: On the song "Blue Tongue" you use a harmonizer. Did you use effects a lot in the whole album?
Not very much. A lot of it was the thimble, the guitar's volume knob, an out-of-phase pickup setting on the guitar, a wah pedal sometimes. In the end of Blue Tongue there was a vibrato effect for one riff at 3m13s, and a pitch shifter at 3m10s (set at -4 and -8 half-steps), and at 3m21s for the fast ending lick (set at +12 half-steps). Before the vocal break in that song at 2m09s, I took a guitar part and cut the tape into small pieces and threw them up in the air. I then took the pieces and spliced them back together, not knowing what they'd sound like, random note patterns, some notes backwards... I took that spliced guitar line and put it back into the song, fading it in. In the Strawberry Footrot solo at 1m28s, I used a wah pedal and a pitch shifter set to -3 half-steps, a 20ms delay and 60% feedback. With the delay and feedback, it makes every note sound like it's ducking down in pitch. At 1m46s I switched to the stereo chorus pedal and wah. In the Strangles solo at 2m01s, the guitar on the left is using a Step Phase effect.
Q10: There are various music styles in this album such as "Blue Tongue" has a big band style, "Limberneck" is Blue-grass-ish, and "Ick" has the Spanish style, etc. Are you totally familiar with those styles? Did you feel any difficulty to play them like "this style is beyond myself"? Or was it natural to you?
It was natural. These songs came from me, from my experiences with and without a guitar in my hand. I studied classical and jazz, and would listen to a lot of different music. I remember watching a movie and hearing Brazilian music for the first time, and the impression it left. One time while scrolling through different TV channels I stopped on a documentary about Elizabeth Cotten, and it inspired me to write some blue-grass music. As a kid a guitar teacher told me get Al DiMeola's 'Electric Rendezvous' album, and it inspired me to write Spanish guitar songs. We're a sum of our experiences. And that's where songs come from, like we're telling stories about our experiences.
Q11: Guitar playing-wise, "Malignant Carbuncle" has a percussive tapping phrase with kind of a reversed effect. How did you make that sound?
I made the reverse effect by flipping the tape reels so the music was in reverse, and I recorded reverb on a track. When I put the reels back to normal the reverb was now in reverse, and instead of fading out after the note, it would fade in before the note. The percussive sound is done by tapping different notes with the picking hand using your 2nd and 3rd fingers, and pulling off onto harmonics held down with your fretting hand. Instead of having your fretting hand under the neck, play from over the neck and rest your 3rd finger lightly on the string to get the harmonics. Then hit your 2nd and 1st fingers onto the strings to get a 'thumping' sound. It's a technique I still use often, you can hear it in the songs 'Dash' from the 'Abnormal' album (at 2m28s) and 'Rockstar For A Day' from the 'Normal' album (at 1m22s)
Q12: The ending part of "Fistulous Withers" has a solo tapping section. How did you play that? Did you set the musical atmosphere and improvise over that or did you prepare phrases before the recording?
The first bonus track, the 'poem', yes? This was a musical code I made, where I spelled out words and sentences of a poem with the guitar notes. It was something I prepared, to properly translate the words into guitar phrases...
Q13: You use the thimble in this album frequently. How did you originally start to use it for the guitar?
I was always looking for ways to get more notes and sounds out of the guitar. My first version of the thimble was a 9-volt battery on a rubber band attached to the bottom horn of my Swiss Cheese guitar. I'd grab the battery and slide with it, but this wasn't a quick enough way to do what I wanted, I couldn't include it into the rest of my playing smoothly enough. It must have been the late 80's or very early 90's when I switched to the thimble. I keep it on the tip of the 4th finger of the picking hand, to tap high notes beyond the fretboard. In 'Orf' I still used the 9-volt battery, but I used it more like a metal slide, wiping the strings with it and using the edge to get notes out.
Q14: Are there any new challenges or playing ideas, which you tried but did not go well?
Playing with my teeth, haha! I first tried it when I was 10 years old, it didn't work out very well. I remember one time in the mid-80s trying to throw the guitar around my back and have it flip around to the front. I flipped it behind me, and it never came back. The strap-lock broke and the guitar ended up 10 feet behind me... and 15 feet, and 20, in pieces. I've tried bringing my thumb onto the fretboard so I had all five digits to fret with, but it didn't get very far. Playing with my feet didn't work out too well. Playing guitar with other external body parts definitely didn't work out too well. But I'm not done yet, there are still other things to try!
Q15: Now, listening back to this album, I still feel "near-future" image on it. Could you describe this album in short?
I always have a hard time describing my own music. How would I describe the album, in short? 'Witty and introspective'... 'Pink Panther on Acid'... haha, this is difficult! 'A Saturday morning cartoon, amphetamines, a superball, the Apocalypse, and a sweet potato.'
Q16. Of course, you keep progressing as a guitarist and a musician even now. However, back then, I think it was your young attitude which made the components of this album. There must have been some kind of element you could achieve it because of the youth. Do you somewhat feel the same?
Yes, there was a fresh clean spirit, an underground character to the sound of the album... it sounded like the start of something, it wasn't polished and perfected, it was very *human*. The imperfection gives it its charm. But I think the instrumental songs I've written since have a lot of the same spirit, they sound like they come from the same place. The instrumental songs on the '9.11' CD - Sierra Leone, Pimpwagon, Van Cleef, Guitars Suck, Hall Of Souls, R2 they could have easily been on an 'Adventures II' CD. And the song Mafalda on the 'Forgotten Anthology' album. I hear a difference on the 'Abnormal' CD - the songs Guitars Still Suck, Spaghetti, The Day After. They still come from the same place, but I think the sounds are a little warmer, production-wise. I think the difference in production makes it also feel like the music 'grew up'. But I can't deny that I've grown up in the last 15 years. I hope I did, haha.
Q17. Now this album is 15 years old. Last year, it was re-released responding to voices of many desperate fans. How do you see the reason of it? What made people want to listen to this now?
I've the seen the demand grow over the years - I've seen people selling original copies for as much as $600 on eBay and webstores like that. Maybe after being in GNR these last years more people have researched my previous albums, and the demand grew? I'm just very glad the album is available again. I'm selling autographed copies at my Bumblefoot.com webstore and donating $5 from each album sold to Multiple Sclerosis research.
Q18: Along the re-release of this album, a guitar score with Tablature will be published which contains all the songs from the album. Did you write and own these music sheets in advance?
I started transcribing the Adventures album in '97 it took six months. I made a copy of every guitar track of every song on cassettes and would listen to them a few seconds at a time with a guitar in my hand, remembering and re-learning all the parts. I'd then use notation software and write them out. These transcriptions are so detailed the fingers, picking, musical notation, TAB, instructions on how to play different parts, it's very accurate. There's an introduction telling about how the album was made, with photos from the album photo shoot, and a glossary of TAB definitions at the end of the book. It's a 200 page book, 8.5 x 11 pages, I used spiral binding so the book will stay open while reading it I refer to the book as a labor of love in the introduction, and it truly is. Making the album was a lot easier than transcribing the album, haha.
Q19: Regarding your other solo works, will you publish guitar scores to other albums?
I've thought about it. What I wanted to do was make a How To Play [Album name] DVD and transcription book for every album, where I can explain how I played the parts, and what my thoughts were, the theory behind them... right now the tour schedule is busy, but maybe when it eases up I can start doing this. I've wanted to for years it's on the ever-growing 'ToDo' list...
Q20: By the way, in 1992, there was a compilation album called "OMINOUS GUITARISTS FROM THE UNKNOWN" from the Shrapnel Records. Which contains the "Chopin Fantasie". At that time, you were credited as just "Ron Thal." Did you put a middle name "Bumblefoot" for the first time on this record? How did you come up with this name?
I started the band 'Bumblefoot' in 1997 and released the Hands album in early 1998. In my band I was singing and playing lead, writing the songs, and doing just about everything. This wasn't my choice - I was just doing what each of us should have been doing but no one else was contributing. So it ended up being a solo band even though I always wanted it to be a *band*, with distinct personalities and everybody writing and having a strong part of the music. It just didn't work out that way. After years of Bumblefoot-the-band being seen as Bumblefoot the one-person, the name became my nickname. Finally in 2001 I accepted it and stopped fighting it and said 'OK, I'm Bumblefoot.' The name went from a song to an album, then to a band, and finally to the artist.
Q21: I want to ask you about the equipments briefly. In this album, the only guitar you used was the Swiss cheese guitar. Is that correct? That guitar has some kind of holes on its body and it's scraped here and there. Do you think those holes and scrapes made the guitar sound unique?
Yes, all the electric guitar tracks were recorded using the Swiss Cheese guitar. I think the holes in the body had some change to the sound, but maybe not a bad change sometimes these changes can make a guitar sound different than all others. As long as you also have good pickups, and a good amp it should be ok. The Swiss Cheese guitar has a DiMarzio Tone Zone by the bridge and DiMarzio Chopper by the neck. There's a 5-way toggle switch - the settings are 1) bridge pickup, 2) bridge pickup as a single-coil, 3) bridge & neck, 4) bridge & neck out-of-phase, 5) neck pickup. The out-of-phase setting brings out a lot of 'quacky' overtones you can hear them in the Scrapie solos at 1m14s and 2m26s, the clean parts of Q Fever at 0m08s and 3m00s, Rinderpest solos at 0m30s, 1m28s and 3m02s, and the Strangles solo at 1m25s.
Q22: Please also explain amps and effects you used as far as you remember.
I used a Marshall head, but don't remember which one...! I used a Marshall 4x12 cabinet with Celestion speakers, and a Shure SM57 mic. I had a Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal, a Boss SE50 effects unit, and for some very distorted rhythm sounds I used a DOD Grunge pedal. I think I also used a Yamaha SPX90 for some of the effects on Blue Tongue.
Q23. In our readers of YOUNG GUITAR, there are some younger people who never had chances to listen this album until now. Please tell them how to enjoy it.
I would suggest they
listen to the songs for the arrangements of the music, for the
composition not just for the solos. The music is meant to make you
smile while you listen - I hope you all enjoy it...!